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Saudi Arabia to execute woman for 'witchcraft'

A leading international human rights organisation is calling on Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to halt the planned execution of a woman accused of "witchcraft".

The woman is due to be put to death on foot of a coerced confession and the statements of witnesses who said she had "bewitched" them.

One man claimed she had made him impotent. In another case, a divorced woman reportedly returned to her ex-husband during the month predicted by the witch said to have cast the spell. The court failed to probe alternative explanations for these incidents.

Human Rights Watch has described the charges against her as "absurd" and says they have no basis in law.

"The fact that Saudi judges still conduct trials for unprovable crimes like 'witchcraft' underscores their inability to carry out objective criminal investigations," said Joe Stork, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

"Fawza Falih's case is an example of how the authorities failed to comply even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice system," he added.

The judges are said to have relied on Fawza Falih's coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had "bewitched" them to convict her in April 2006.

Falih retracted her confession in court, claiming it was extracted under duress. She said that as an illiterate woman she did not understand the document she was forced to fingerprint.

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She also stated in her appeal that her interrogators beat her during her 35 days in detention at the hands.

In November of last year Saudi Arabia executed pharmacist Mustafa Ibrahim for sorcery in Riyadh. Clerics of Saudi Arabia's austere form of Islam, known as Wahhabism, take accusations of sorcery seriously and recently held a conference in Riyadh on how to combat it.

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